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Dare to Dream

November 23, 2013

Grace and George2

It’s uncharacteristically cool and rainy and for the first time in weeks I have a pass to sleep as late as I want.  Instead, at 5:00am I’m hungry and sneezing and staring wide-eyed at my ceiling, thinking about washing clothes.  (Man, I need to do that.)

The past three weeks have been intensely busy and I can’t believe we’re facing down the end of November already.  About three weeks ago I decided to get back in the scholarship ‘business’ and have had hardly two unoccupied minutes since.  Those of you who know me know my river of guilt runs deep and strong.

This year I was determined to sit down.  I would help other people and I would give advice to their students but I didn’t want to edit essays or correct forms.  I thought if I said “no” to everyone the unilateral fairness of it would cancel my guilt over the injustice.  But the voice in my gut kept saying, first at a whisper then at a shout, “…what if we can?”

Some of my favorite students from Sanniquellie tapped into my brain waves and reached for their phones just as it hit an all-time high.  The calls and texts went something like this: “I worry my education has been a waste.”  “I don’t want to die a poor farmer.”  “Please help me look for a scholarship.  I will do anything and go anywhere.”

“MA RB, DON’T FORGET ME.”

Often, the only way out of the fire is straight through.  If I didn’t do something, if I didn’t at least try, it was always going to haunt me.  I pictured my best and brightest students ten years in the future.  What if I returned and saw them still selling scratch cards and changing money, the lucky ones maybe driving for NGOs?  The answer was clear.  Even if everyone got rejected at least we’d know we tried.  At least we would have allowed ourselves to dream.

One of my favorite Liberian sayings is, “Your delay is not your denial.”  It might not happen today.  It still might not happen tomorrow.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  I often remind my students (and myself) that when I was in high school I applied to eight colleges and was only accepted to two.  Before Peace Corps took me I applied to a dozen international fellowships and jobs that each sent rejections.  I tell my students, who are so sure I have magic powers, about being rejected by Teach for America.  The form email said something to the effect of, “Thanks for your interest, but we need people who are capable of overcoming stress and adversity.”

Sometimes “no” is just fate’s way of saying, “Wait small.  Something bigger is coming.”  There is a big difference between being at a dead end and being at a dead end with a plan.  Even if you don’t have the map, you know there is something better out there—you just have to find it.

My hope is that even if we hit another wall my kids will remember the path, remember how to read the signs, and remember they deserve more.  Next time I might not be here to guide them because I’m trying to take my own next step.  I’ve been rejected from grad school two times before, but this year I’m trying again.  I want to study business and education and open a real high school in Liberia.

How do you like them applies, Teach for America?

With all of this rolling around in my head I called two of my students who graduated in 2012.  Neither has been able to attend college and both have become teachers.  I knew they had solid papers and solid stories and if anyone deserved it, damn it, it was Grace and George.  Last Saturday they got in a car and came to Cuttington.  We talked about life, dreams, and change for Liberia.  They made butt-prints in my new couch, ate all my food, and wrote through almost an entire ream of paper.  I taught them about microwaves, ice cream, and showers (“Ms. RB, your water is embarrassing me!  It won’t stop flashing on me when I take bath!”)

They are both applying to programs in secondary education, George for earth science and Grace for geography.  I never so much as suggested it, but you can imagine how happy it makes me.  With a bachelor’s degree they qualify to become principals and administrators.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

When asked to write about a time she overcame a challenge, Grace surprised me by writing about her rejection from Ashesi in September.  (Based on WAEC results they decided to award none of the ten scholarships they had allotted for Liberia.)  She hit a dead end and took it to be the only path!  A challenge, I told her, is something you go over, under, or through.  It is something that stands in your way but you are so determined and strong you get past anyway.  An hour later she handed me an essay about leaving school for several years because a teacher tried to exploit her when she was 15.

That’s a challenge.

Today they’re back in Sanniquellie gathering signatures and recommendations for the final stretch.  I pray that for at least one of them this race will end and the next one will begin.  Just keep moving forward, kids.

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

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